Film Review: Pitch Perfect 2 is in tune with original, lacks own voice

Much as the characters lost their sound, the film Pitch Perfect 2 needed awhile to regain the harmony of the original.

The sequel to 2012’s surprise hit Pitch Perfect once again follows the fictional Barden University all-female a capella group, the Barden Bellas, who have dominated the collegiate circuit since the end of the first installment.

The plot hangs on a mid-air hang-up during a performance — which Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) inadvertently wrecks during a rendition of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” — at President Obama’s birthday party.

Disgraced, the Bellas face extinction unless they can win the world championship (conveniently taking place later that year) and defeat the German vocal powerhouse Das Sound Machine.

There are lots of other little plots: a new member (Hailee Steinfeld) trying to fit in, long-time member Chloe (Brittany Snow) facing life after college and leader Beca (Anna Kendrick) worrying her talent won’t translate in her new dream job.

Fans of the first movie (like me) will find plenty to like, though the sequel suffers from a lack of focus, which makes it feel kind of episodic and meandering. The detours are usually fun, but it doesn’t make for as compelling a film.

Some jokes, especially early on, fall flat. Lilly’s (Hana Mae Lee) penchant for whispering something insane whiffs a few times. Fat Amy gets in another ginger dig at Chloe. Announcer John Smith (John Michael Higgins) casually drops misogyny into every conversation.

Like many sequels, Pitch Perfect 2 tries to replicate what worked best in the first film, even when it requires a bit of shoehorning. Everyone loved the “riff-off” in the original, right? So they found a way to have another version make sense.

People enjoyed performances gone awry, so let’s have some more shows that end embarrassingly. Do you want cameos? You got it! Snoop Dogg and Katey Sagal and Keegan-Michael Key and the Green Bay Packers!

It’s an agreeable movie with some lighthearted problems that the characters overcome together and a fun, perverse wit that really begins to shine in the movie’s second half.

And the music, of course, is wonderful. The members of Das Sound Machine make convincing villains because they’re so talented and confident. No one needs to stoop to cheating. The Bellas, even when they’re “finding their voice,” sound great and belt out fun new versions of old favorites. Oklahoma native and star hip-hop producer, songwriter and musician Ester Dean also reprises her role as Bellas member Cynthia-Rose Adams.

Written by Kay Cannon, who also penned the original, and directed by producer and co-star Elizabeth Banks, the movie stays true to the characters and spirit of the original. And after some throat-clearing early on, it ends on the right notes.

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